United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
DEBORAH L. BOARDMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
December 27, 2018, Plaintiff Letitia L. petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's final
decision to deny her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits.
ECF 1. I have considered the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment and Plaintiff's reply. ECF 15, 16, 17. I
find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6
(D. Md. 2018). This Court must uphold the decision of the
Agency if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the
Agency employed proper legal standards. See 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v.
Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that
standard, I will deny both motions, reverse the
Commissioner's decision in part, and remand the case to
the Commissioner for further consideration. This letter
explains my rationale.
filed her claim for benefits on March 30, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of February 18, 2014. Tr. 170-77. Her
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr.
104-07, 113-14. A hearing was held on September 11, 2017,
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr.
35-80. Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. Tr. 10-22. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
Tr. 1-6, so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“disorders of the lumbar spine, and arthritis of the
bilateral knees.” Tr. 12. Despite these impairments,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except she requires an option to sit and stand every 30-60
minutes, she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and she can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
After considering the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could
not perform her past relevant work as a short order cook,
fast food manager, kitchen helper, or cook, but could perform
other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. Tr. 21-22. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 22.
raises one primary argument on appeal: that the ALJ did not
provide an adequate analysis of Listing 1.04A at step three.
ECF 14-1 at 10. I agree that the ALJ's step three
analysis was inadequate, and that remand is warranted. In
remanding for further explanation, I express no opinion as to
whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Plaintiff is
not entitled to benefits is correct.
specifically argues that the ALJ's evaluation of Listing
1.04A failed to comply with Fourth Circuit precedent. For
support, Plaintiff cites to Cook v. Heckler, 783
F.2d 1168, 1172-73 (4th Cir. 1986); Radford v.
Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013); Fox v.
Colvin, 632 Fed.Appx. 750 (4th Cir. 2015); and Brown
v. Colvin, 639 Fed.Appx. 921 (4th Cir. 2016). ECF 14 at
Fox v. Colvin, the Fourth Circuit clarified the
evidentiary requirements needed to support an ALJ's
determination of whether any of a claimant's impairments
meets a listing at step three of the sequential evaluation.
632 Fed.Appx. 750 (4th Cir. 2015). To understand why remand
is warranted in Plaintiff's case, some background is
useful. At step three of the sequential evaluation, an ALJ
determines whether a claimant's impairments meet or
medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Listings describe each of
the major body system impairments that the Agency
“consider[s] to be severe enough to prevent an
individual from doing any gainful activity, regardless of his
or her age, education, or work experience.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.925(a). Listings 1.00 et. seq. through
Listings 11.00, et. seq., Listings 13.00 et.
seq., and Listings 14.00 et. seq., pertain to
physical impairments. Each physical impairment listing
contains a set of signs or objective medical findings that
must be present for the claimant's impairment to meet the
In Fox, regarding his findings at step three of the
sequential evaluation, the ALJ stated:
Although the claimant has ‘severe' impairments,
they do not meet the criteria of any listed impairments
described in Appendix 1 of the Regulations (20 CFR, Subpart
P, Appendix 1). No treating or examining physician has
mentioned findings equivalent in severity to the criteria of
any listed impairment, nor does the evidence show medical
findings that are the same or equivalent to those of any
listed impairment of the Listing of Impairments. In reaching
this conclusion, the undersigned has considered, in
particular, sections 9.00(B)(5) and 11.14.
632 Fed.Appx. at 754-55. The Fourth Circuit held that the
ALJ's analysis was deficient because it consisted of
conclusory statements and did not include “any
‘specific application of the pertinent legal
requirements to the record evidence.'” Id.
at 755 (quoting Radford, 734 F.3d at 295). That is,
the ALJ did not apply any findings or medical evidence to the
disability listing and “offered nothing to reveal
why he was making his decision.” Id.
(emphasis in original). The Fourth Circuit also rejected the
notion that failure to engage in meaningful analysis at step
three could constitute harmless error where the evidence of
record otherwise demonstrated that the claimant did not meet
a listing. Id. Rather, the Fox Court
emphasized that it is not the Court's role to
“engage in an analysis that the ALJ should have done
in the first instance, ” or “to speculate as to
how the ALJ applied the law to its findings ...